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Middle Field restoration about to begin

By Sally Voth

Several years of planning will come to fruition as soon as next week for the Third Battle of Winchester battlefield site.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation is looking for donations and volunteers to help the restoration effort, said Chase Milner, manager of stewardship for the foundation.

"The main field is the first of multiple historic landscape restoration projects that we have on the site where we're trying to restore the battlefield back to its 1864 appearance," Milner said.

Doing so will involve clearing out invasive brush and shrubs, replanting native warm-season grasses, and installing rail fencing, he said.

Milner said SVBF bought the 209-acre Huntsberry Farm in 2009.

"For the last few years, we've been planning on getting under way with the general restoration work," he said. "This is one of the largest undertakings on the property so far."

An 1873 map shows Middle Field as open land, Milner said. He said the foundation also plans to put in trails and passive interpretation.

"Warm-season grasses are what a lot of threatened native Virginia species used to thrive amongst," Milner said.

Those species include the northern bobwhite quail, he said.

The 30-acre Middle Field site was where some of the fiercest fighting took place during the September 1864 battle. The foundation is partnering on the project with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Smithsonian Institution and environmental fundraising entity Ahyayha.

"The Union advance charged across this property towards the Confederate line, which was under the leadership of Gen. John B. Gordon, who was one of the most tenacious fighting generals in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia," Milner said.

More than 50,000 men fought on Middle Field, and more than 8,000 were killed or wounded, he said.

"This Middle Field is one of the bloodiest pieces of battlefield in the entire Shenandoah Valley," Milner said. "It's arguably the bloodiest. It's certainly very hallowed ground."

A forest mulcher will be brought in to help prepare the site. Work will begin next week, weather permitting, Milner said.

"It can clear up to 2 acres an hour, and it does so without impacting the below-ground resources," Milner said. "We found that it's the most sensitive and appropriate method for clearing and moving the invasive vegetation from the property."

At the same time, an archeological survey will be done by a team from James Madison University, he said.

Those interested in donating or volunteering can call 540-740-4545, or email info@svbf.net.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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